Thu, Feb 24, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Current crisis shows limits of Chinese influence on Pyongyang

The US has long been hoping that pressure from Beijing will bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, but such hopes are not justified by China's actions


Twelve days after North Korea pulled out of six-party talks, leader Kim Jong-il staged a partial climb down at China's request but left a key roadblock to dialogue still standing, analysts said.

Kim said he would return to the talks aimed at ending the nuclear standoff if conditions were right during a four-day visit by a senior Chinese Communist Party official, Wang Jiaru, according to North Korea's official media. Wang's visit to Pyongyang ended on Tuesday.

The promise extracted from Kim demonstrated that China was using its leverage in the interests of stability on the Korean Peninsula.

But it also showed the limits of outside influence on the North as well as Pyongyang's apparent bottom line -- Kim's so far deal-breaking demand for concessions from the US before it would return to dialogue.

Washington has ruled out rewarding North Korea for simply turning up at talks. In a joint statement on Saturday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Japanese counterpart Nobutaka Machimura said Pyongyang should drop all preconditions.

"Kim Jong-il's latest comments contain no big difference from what North Korea already declared on February 10," when it pulled out of six-party talks and said it had nuclear weapons, said Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea expert at Korea University.

"But North Korea put the ball back into the US court by reiterating its position," Nam said.

Peter Beck, of the International Crisis Group think-tank, said Kim's intervention may have nudged the standoff closer to talks without containing much of substance.

"I think it is one more step in the direction back to the negotiating table. We are clearly not there yet," he said.

Koh Yu-hwan, of Dongguk University, said Pyongyang's statement of 12 days ago that boasted of nuclear weapons produced such a volley of criticism of the North from world capitals that Kim was trying to reestablish calm and rational dialogue.

"He says North Korea does not want to overturn the negotiating table but wants it to be set up with new dishes palatable to its taste," he said.

"Kim Jong-il is stating to the world that North Korea does not want the confrontation to spin out of control and urging changes on the US side first -- to drop its hostile policy and pay rewards for abandoning nukes," he said.

Since the stalemate began 28 months ago the North has maintained its demands while denying US charges that it is running a highly enriched uranium program.

At a third round of talks in Beijing in June that brought together the six parties -- the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US -- Washington softened its tone and offered aid and security guarantees in return for a step-by-step dismantling of North Korea's plutonium and uranium weapons programs.

Washington says it has yet to receive a response from North Korea on that proposal, while the North rejects all charges relating to uranium and says it wants rewards before it will return to the negotiating table.

"In the days ahead one of the challenges is going to be how the United States and North Korea are going to save face, because really they have been talking over and under each other and not to each other," Beck said.

Most analysts said that the US would be disappointed if it is relying on pressure from China to produce a turnround of the North's policy.

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